BOSTON (CBS) — If there’s anything that’s become abundantly clear over the past few years, it’s that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas is an INDIVIDUAL.
The all-caps spelling, of course, is in reference to Thomas’ Facebook statement after he elected not to attend the team’s Stanley Cup celebration at the White House. After that decision, Thomas was criticized in the media for being a selfish, me-first player who used a team celebration as an opportunity to steal the spotlight in order to make a political statement.
With the benefit of retrospect, we know now that the White House fallout was the beginning of a very abrupt end to Thomas’ career as a Boston Bruin.
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The netminder went back to his trusty Facebook page to make a semi-official announcement over the weekend that come October, he will not be playing hockey for the Bruins next season.
“At the age of 38, I believe it is time to put my time and energies into those areas and relationships that I have neglected,” Thomas wrote. “That is why at this time I feel the most important thing I can do in my life is to reconnect with the three F’s. Friends, Family, and Faith. This is what I plan on doing over the course of the next year.”
In its essence, Thomas’ statement is perfectly fine — admirable, even. To take issue with a man for turning down millions of dollars and instead choosing to be closer to his family would be downright coldhearted. You can’t fault a man looking to reconnect with his three F’s.
That is, though, only if you take his announcement at face value, which admittedly is rather hard to do given the following set of circumstances:
–Tim Thomas’ no-trade clause expires on July 1, giving the Bruins the freedom to trade him to any team they desire without requiring his approval.
–Tim Thomas received little support from the Bruins organization after the White House trip, with Cam Neely saying the team was “disappointed” with the decision and one anonymous team source calling Thomas an “[expletive] selfish [expletive]” in The Boston Globe.
–The relationship between the Boston sports media and Thomas grew rather sour after that White House incident, with Thomas twice cutting short his sessions with the media when he didn’t like where the conversation was going.
–When making his announcement to reconnect with his three F’s, Thomas included two links to his sponsors. Can a heartfelt, sincere message really be brought to you by G-Form.com?
There are also a number of areas left for speculation. There was the whole “we-they” debate after Thomas was accused of separating himself from his teammates after this year’s Game 7 loss to Washington. There were the rumblings that Thomas, unhappy with his name popping up in trade rumors after Tuukka Rask had taken his job as the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie in 2010, took the gold colors and Bruins images out of his goalie equipment and went with a straightforward black-and-white look.
However much stock you want to put into any of that is up to you. The fact that Thomas left so much room for interpretation and speculation with his decisions and statements over the past year is nobody’s fault but his own. If you choose to look at either with a heavy dose of cynicism, that is your right as an INDIVIDUAL.
Just don’t expect it to matter much to Thomas.
If there’s been one distinctive quality about Thomas throughout his entire career, it’s that he’s never been afraid to be different. That’s exactly why he became an NHL starter, an Olympic team member, a two-time Vezina winner and just the 15th goaltender to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy. He was drafted 217th overall back in 1994, but he didn’t let his position as the 20th goalie selected that year kill his dreams of playing professional hockey.
A rational person would have quit in the late ’90s in the ECHL, AHL or IHL. He wasn’t spectacular by any means in any of those leagues, and it would take a crazy person’s mind-set to keep the dream alive.
A rational person would have relished in the success that Thomas achieved in Finland and settled in for a nice career overseas. A risk evaluator would have advised against moving back to the States for that small chance of ever making it back to the NHL in a full-time capacity, especially after with a surefire career waiting in Finland, and especially at the age of 31.
But Thomas didn’t care. He took the road less traveled, and lo and behold, it worked out masterfully for him.
So why would any of us expect him to do anything different right now?
Of course, his decision this time around comes with repercussions. For one, he’s reneging after signing a contract. He’s bailing after signing his name on a dotted line and agreeing to work for a specific period of time. That’s not good. If the Bruins don’t have the ability to decide “We don’t want Player X on the team next year, even though we agreed to pay him,” then a player making that same decision brings about a dangerous dynamic in professional sports.
Worse than that, though, is the $5 million cap hit the Bruins will take this year for a player who’s hanging out in November with his family in Colorado and is training with Evo Ultra Fit and G-Form rather than stopping pucks against the Canadiens and Penguins. It won’t make general manager Peter Chiarelli’s job impossible, but it will make it that much harder to build a complete roster given that $5 million handicap. Taking that to the next step, Thomas’ decision, while a personal one, will have lasting effects on his now-former teammates, as the team will be at a disadvantage once the season starts. There’s just no way to say Thomas’ decision doesn’t hurt the Boston Bruins.
And if Thomas made his decision out of spite of possibly being traded, or out of his own personal belief that he’ll be able to make the Olympic squad in 2014, or anything that would constitute putting himself before the team, then shame on him. But aside from speculation and educated guesses, we’ll never know that for sure. And to eviscerate a man based on circumstance and speculation is a risky proposition.
Still, all of those issues are valid, and even the ones that aren’t fully known to the public are worth questioning. They’ve led to overreactions everywhere, from fans’ comments on Thomas’ own Facebook post to scathing columns in the media ripping Thomas for being selfish.
And maybe, really, such commentary is exactly right. But that’s not the point. Tim Thomas has always done what he wants, even if it makes no sense, even if 99 percent of humans would choose to do the opposite, and even if “doing what he wants” means trying to make Team USA as a 40-year-old, something nobody outside the Thomas household believes to be more than remotely possible.
The latest decision is most unfortunate for the Bruins, the team that gave Thomas his NHL career and a substantial four-year contract worth $20 million. If you want to be upset, that’s certainly fair. If you want to be skeptical about his explanation, you have good reason.
But if Thomas is indeed being sincere, and if he feels strongly that spending time with his family is more important than manning the crease for the Boston Bruins, then what value would he have if he stayed on the team? Thomas explained himself by saying that playing at the sport’s highest level requires a “singleminded focus” that requires much sacrifice in life. Without that focus, it’s hard to believe Thomas would be able to perform at an NHL level if his heart wasn’t in it.
So while this saga has resulted in emotions flying wild from all directions, it’s best to just stick to the facts and what we know. It’s easiest to just chalk this up to Tim Thomas shouting loudly from the rooftops once again that he is an INDIVIDUAL. If you expected anything different of him, then you just haven’t been paying attention.